V RaptureChrist Newsletter
March 15, 2002

What Does INRI Mean?

There are many crucifixes that bear these initials above the head of Christ. INRI is not a real  inscription, but an acronym.

What was really written on the cross?

The Bible says:

Luke 23:38
And there was also a superscription written over him, in letters of Greek, and Roman, and Hebrew, 'This is the King of the Jews.'

John 19:19
And Pilate also wrote a title, and put [it] on the cross, and it was written, 'Jesus the Nazarene, the king of the Jews;'

Pilate put a sign on the cross, above the head of Jesus.  As we read from the bible, the sign was written in 3 languages: Greek, Latin and Hebrew.

Probably, the top most line was written in Latin (Roman) because it was an official document.  This was the phrase Pilate wrote and displayed above Jesus on the cross.

According to John, the Latin text of the titilum, or title, placed on the Cross is:

Jesus [the] Nazarene King [of the] Jews


INRI is an acronym for that.

The Latin "I" and "V" is the English "J" and "U" respectively.

The other apostles mention that this title was also written in Greek and in Hebrew.  Therefore, most people in Jerusalem were able to read the inscription as it was written in the three languages that were known in that region at that time. 

Luke and Matthew mention a similar rendering of the text.  It is possible that when the Latin title was translated to Greek and to Hebrew, they wrote the title a little different.

According to Luke, the Greek title read:

This is the King of the Jews



In ancient Greek there are no spaces between words, no punctuation marks {commas, periods, colons, question marks, etc.} and all letters are capitals.

According to Matthew, the text translated to Hebrew  was:

This is Jesus, the King of the Jews

זה הוא ישוע מלך היהודים

The title on the cross looked like this:

What Type of Cross?

The possible forms in which the cross of Jesus is represented are these:

1. The crux simplex (I), a single beam without a cross-bar.

2. The crux decussata (X), or St. Andrew's cross.

3. The crux commissa (T), or St. Anthony's cross.

4. The crux immissa (+), or Latin cross, which is the main representation of our Lord's cross.

5. The crux orthodoxa () or Russian cross, which is a three bar cross on which our Savior was crucified. 

The Latin word crux is derived from "cruciare", meaning to torture.

After Pilate's sentence, Jesus was taken away to be crucified. Crucifixion was a form of torture and execution practiced by many ancient civilizations such as Carthage, India, Scythia, Assyria, and Persia.

Ancient Phoenicians were the first to use the crux immissa with one transverse cross beam rather than the crux simplex with just single upright beam. The Romans copied this form of torture from the Phoenicians.  They used crucifixion on a crux immissa or on a three bar cross (crux orthodoxus) as the principal means of execution of rebellious slaves and other troublemakers who were not Roman citizens. During the Jewish revolt in A.D. 66 for example, the Romans crucified 3,600 Jews, many of them of the aristocracy.  So many Jews were crucified that there was no lumber available in Judea.

Biblical evidence of the three bar cross:

  • 1. Number of nails on the hands of Jesus.
    The body of Jesus portrayed the mark of two nails.
    John 20:25  records doubting Thomas as saying: "...Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe."

  • 2.  There had to be a crossbar to stretch out the arms of Jesus in order to breathe. Medically it is impossible to survive six hours nailed to a stake (Crux Simplex).

  • 3.  The transom above Jesus' head bearing the title. Further biblical evidence that Christ was crucified on a three bar cross, rather than a crux simplex, can be gathered from John 19:19, which describes the charge placed above Christ's head: "Jesus the Nazarene King of the Jews".

The purpose of a three-bar cross is a simple one. The short bar on the top was used for the sign that was placed on the cross which read, "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews". 

The middle bar -- the longest -- is the bar upon which  Jesus' arms were stretched and nailed. The bottom bar is the footrest which supported Our Lord's body.

Very early depictions of the crucifixion, even those originating in Egypt, generally portray the triple bar cross. Also,  in earlier depictions of the Crucifixion, the bottom bar is horizontal rather than angled. 

For more information see CROSS

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